Drawing the line

A look into what the new straight feeder patterns will do for Winnetonka

Rachel Adamson, Editor in Chief

Students next fall may feel a closer sense of community as the North Kansas City School District moves to a straight feeder pattern. But the changes leave Winnetonka with a lower number of students and the potential for a lower socioeconomic class.

Currently, Winnetonka has three different middle schools that make up its population: Antioch, Eastgate and Maple Park. With the new straight feeder pattern, only Maple Park students will attend Winnetonka. Oak Park will be populated with only Antioch students and Northgate will feed into North Kansas City High School [NKCHS]. This model is already in place at Staley with New Mark feeding directly into it.

“We wanted an opportunity for students entering kindergarten to know without a doubt where they’re headed for high school,” Executive Director of Organizational Development Rochel Daniels said. “In the Staley feeder pattern, that’s already a possibility. When you go into those elementary schools, it’s a straight feeder pattern where kids are not split from their friends at any point in middle school and beyond. And we thought, ‘You know what, if it’s good enough for up north, why not create it for the rest of the district?’”

Next year, Winnetonka will have the smallest population of students in attendance of all the district high schools. With this attendance drop, some are concerned that the school will not be able to fill elective program classes, leadership positions and athletics. Since sports team divisions are decided by enrollment, the school could drop down into a lower division.

”Winnetonka will be in the same class for all athletic events next year,”  Assistant Principal and Athletic Director David Garrison said. “MSHSAA looks at all member enrollment numbers every two years, and they make adjustments for school classifications based on those numbers.  Next year is year two of the cycle, so Winnetonka will be in the same classes next year. After next year, we could move up or down depending on where Winnetonka fits with the rest of the schools in Missouri.”

The decrease in students attending Winnetonka next fall will likely result in a smaller number of students going out for sports and after school activities.

To try to increase student involvement at a younger age, the district is implementing additional after school activities using funds anonymously donated to the district. Every middle school will be adding an additional basketball team and volleyball team, cheerleading, football and wrestling for athletics. Middle schools will also be adding academic tutoring for all subjects, PLTW (Project Lead the Way), Robotics, Scholar Bowl, TSA (Technology Student Association), Science Olympiad and Theatre club.

“We know that there are some families who do have more opportunities to play club sports or to try out a variety of athletics or performance activities too,” Daniels said. “We really wanted to be sure to add more access to that earlier on.”

Whether it’s sports, activities, or academics, there is fear that the lower number of students will negatively impact Winnetonka. According to Joseph Wendt who has worked in Winnetonka for more than 30 years, the straight feeder pattern is going to take away many high achieving and leadership students, leaving the remaining students in a sinking ship of low test scores and behavior challenges.

“Those 200 kids [leadership students] have done a great job keeping us afloat and they have pulled hundreds of other kids up to be approximately like them. But there’s a tipping point and we have fought that tipping point for the last 25 years of this school’s existence,” Wendt said.“By cutting out that group of kids, what we’re doing is those 100 good kids that are left are going to be overwhelmed and there’s just not going to be enough to keep us afloat.”

In the 2016 graduating class, 16% of students were from Antioch Middle School. Despite the small number of Antioch students that attended Winnetonka, 44% of students in the top 10% of the 2016 graduating class would have attended Oak Park under the new attendance boundaries.

“It’s hard to say why, but students from Antioch have been more involved in academics, sports, theater, vocal and instrumental music than their small percentage of the student body would suggest,” science teacher Marcia Holwick said. “For the kids that stay here and remain Griffins in the future, there are going to be more opportunities for those kids to be involved, so that’s a really good thing for them. I’m looking forward to what these kids will do.”

This boundary change will cause Winnetonka to lose students to Oak Park that come from Antioch who live in Northhaven Gardens, Carriage Hills, Brooktree or Brookhilll housing subdivisions.

“I don’t understand. I don’t understand why they are doing it,” Wendt said. “If they wanted to have the middle schools be straight feeders into those four high schools, I get that. But then I don’t understand why that boundary.”

Using this year’s data from the elementary schools that will soon feed into Winnetonka, the school’s free and reduced lunch rates would grow – possibly as much as 14%. At this rate, Winnetonka would be left with 66% of students on free and reduced lunch.

Using this same data for the other high schools, Winnetonka would have the second highest number of students on free reduced lunch in the district following NKCHS with 69%. Oak Park would have 52% of students on free and reduced lunch and Staley would have 23% of students on free and reduced lunch.

High free and reduced lunch numbers are often used by schools as a direct indicator of low socioeconomic status, which is defined by the income, education, and occupation of members of the household.

According to the IRIS Center at Peabody College, Vanderbilt University, students from low socioeconomic families typically achieve at lower levels than students from middle to high socioeconomic families. These low socioeconomic students enter kindergarten with lower language skills and tend to score at least 10 percent lower than the national average in mathematics and reading.

“All educational research will tell you that students from lower socioeconomic levels can achieve academically,” Holwick said. “However, they need more support from teachers and schools in order to do that. I’m hopeful that we will keep the same staffing levels and increase the funding levels despite the fact that we are going to have fewer kids in our building.”

As the head football coach, Jared Barge says he understands the new challenges that may await him in the coming years.

“It means we’re going to have kids that need a lot more help,” Barge said. “It just makes being a coach here even more important to make sure that we’re taking care of the kids that need to get taken care of in the right way and making sure that their needs are met. But the key is to help them get graduated and off to college so they can change the cycle of being in a low socioeconomic status.”

Superintendent Dan Clemens said that the district is prepared to provide the resources necessary to not allow Winnetonka to fail.

“We are going to do everything we can to make all students successful at Winnetonka. If that requires a specialized teacher to support students that aren’t doing well or additional courses, additional classes, whatever it takes,” Clemens said. “We have a full commitment to making Winnetonka as successful as it can possibly be.”

Despite the seemingly negative impacts the new straight feeder pattern will have on Winnetonka, Clemens and Daniels believe that the straight feeder patterns will allow for communities to grow together by opening up communication amongst elementary, middle and high schools to promote equitable education.

“If you get to start with someone and build a relationship and carry it throughout time, I think those could be lifelong friends for students. I think you also get to know the kids’ abilities better,” Clemens said. “If our middle school teachers can talk to the same consistent group of elementary teachers and our high school teachers can talk to the same consistent group of middle school teachers, I think we get to know our kids better. We get to know their strengths, their weaknesses and how we can best help them.”